RESTAURANTS - South of the Center

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Named for a songbird, the superb bistro/art space on a tiny lane, draws artsy locals and expats searching for traditional Vietnamese food in a laid-back, rather unusual setting. The two-floor French-era house has oodles of antiques and artwork on walls; best is sitting on the wood floors upstairs, where groups crowd around short tables and sit on pillows. Food’s great, served in family-style portions – grilled beef in mustard sauce, clay-pot eggplant in soy sauce, veggie spring rolls (dishes start at US$2). The rice wine list includes some seriously strong ones sure to choke novices. Worth the hike – or rather, cab ride – from the center.
Tel 04-976-0633; 65 Ngo Hue, off Hue St; open 11.30am-2pm & 6pm-midnight

One of Hanoi’s fanciest Vietnamese restaurants at surprisingly low prices – a quick cab/motorbike ride south of the lake – Wild Lotus is luxurious transformation of an old villa. Walk upstairs – minding the trompe l’oeil pool upstairs (I saw a Japanese businessman get a good ol’, face-losing foot-dunk in it) – to the gold-walled, nouveaux Asian décor. Food is delicious, artfully prepared and surprisingly authentic. For starters, you can’t beat the green mango salad with dried beef (US$4) or the host of salads (from US$4). Mains run the Vietnamese gamut, with vegetarian, seafood and meats, like pan-fried sea bass in mango salad (prices range US$4-12.50). Call ahead for a dinner table.
Tel 04-943-9342;; 55A Nguyen Du St

Wonderful villa spot transformed into a street-food HQ – with traditional street-food noodles and snacks (che dessert, bun rice noodles, egg rolls – everything) is a Vietnam mini-chain you have to experience once. Food’s great, cheap, and it’s walking distance from the Hoa Lo Prison sight.
15 Phan Boi Chau St